Last year, the Texas Longhorns had two players drafted during the 2018 NFL Draft. DeShon Elliot was a 6th round pick by the Baltimore Ravens, and the Cincinnati Bengals selected Malik Jefferson in the 3rd round. Somehow, Poona Ford went undrafted, but he ended up signing with the Seattle Seahawks. With that group last year, the Longhorns were ranked as the 42nd-best defense in the country, allowing 365.5 yards per game and creating 26 turnovers.
Despite losing some talented players to the NFL Draft, the next wave of talented defensive players prepare for the 2018 season and the 2019 NFL Draft. Tom Herman and his 3-4 base defense should improve in his second season, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see this defense create four or five draft-worthy players.
I love this play from P.J. Locke (S #11) for Texas. Aligned over the Missouri TE (#11) & he bites inside but recovers by flipping his hips, takes right angle over the TE. Gets in the hip of TE w/right hand on hip of TE - left hand overtop for PBU. Great all around by him. pic.twitter.com/Q9U4ZfYh7u— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) August 8, 2018
P.J. Locke III, Defensive Back
Whenever you put on the tape of the Longhorns’ defense, P.J. Locke is always near the football. He’s a team captain for a reason, and there’s a lot to love about his game. With only two career interceptions, there will be question marks regarding his playmaking ability, but he does have 11 career pass deflections, and his ball skills shouldn’t be overlooked.
On the play above, Locke is aligned over the tight end and, despite cheating a bit inside on the route, he does a nice job recovering and closing off the top of the route. In transit, he makes a play on the football and deflects it out of the hands of the tight end. Getting into the hip pocket of a quarterback’s intended target is crucial and will always help a defensive play steer their way to the football.
Throughout his career, he’s played in 33 games and has made 19 starts. His versatility will be highly coveted for a player of his size (5’11 and 210 pounds), and playing both safety and nickel back will keep plenty of teams interested. Seeing Texas play him closer to the box makes me wonder about his long speed but makes me feel comfortable about his ability to come up and tackle.
Last season, he tallied 39 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two pass deflections and a forced fumble. No matter how many times you try to watch someone else on this defense, you’ll always notice Locke. He’ll lead this team in the right direction, and if they’re going to win more than seven games, he’ll be a big reason to why they do it. Keep a circle around his name, as he should get drafted in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Gary Johnson, Linebacker
Losing Malik Jefferson at linebacker might not hurt this team as much as you think. There were times that he over-pursued and missed tackles, but one player that doesn’t miss tackles is Gary Johnson. Every time I put on the tape, Johnson was showing up. He runs hard downhill and throws his body at offensive playmakers. That was evident in his 60 tackles, six tackles for loss and two sacks after his first season with the Longhorns.
Before coming to Texas, Johnson was “body bagging” running backs for Dodge City Community College. The JUCO transfer tallied 215 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss during his two seasons at Dodge City. His first season for the Longhorns was impressive, but it won’t surprise me when he makes a bigger impact for the Longhorns in his second season.
This season, I’d like to see the Longhorns drop him into coverage more because right now, he looks limited. It’s not so much that he’s stiff in the open field, but that he’s not diagnosing quickly enough in zone and man coverages. With a slight improvement in that area, his name could shoot up draft boards. For now, chalk him up as the run stopper that your defense could use on first and second down.
Charles Omenihu, Defensive Tackle
Despite living in the shadow of his teammate, Poona Ford, there were plenty of times that Charles Omenihu stood out. Starting with his size and overall length on the football field, he’s a daunting man. Listed at 6’6 and 275 pounds, the senior defensive lineman hovers over just about everyone on the field.
On the play above, you’ll notice him aligned as a 4i (inside shoulder of the offensive tackle). Right after engaging and creating separation, he starts to lose ground at the line of scrimmage. However, he keeps his eyes in the backfield and uses a push-pull technique to defeat the right tackle. This puts him in great position to make the tackle, and he does just that.
During his junior season, he recorded 28 tackles, 7 tackles for loss and four sacks. Omenihu presents versatility right away because he can play any position on the defensive line. Whether he’s a stand-up EDGE or playing as the nose-tackle, he’s going to do whatever he can to create chaos. There are times that he looks gassed and might take a play off, but overall, he’s technically sound, and his length gives him an advantage on any offensive lineman that he lines up against. Every year for Texas he’s gotten better, but it won’t be surprising when he puts it all together his senior season and makes a believer out of everyone, not just me, for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Davante Davis, Cornerback
One of the more experienced defensive backs on this Texas defense is Davante Davis. He’s played 34 games for the Longhorns and has 14 career starts. At 6’2 and 205 pounds, he’s got good length for the position and should have plenty of opportunities to match up against some of the top receivers from the Big 12 Conference.
Last year, he battled to stay near the top of the depth chart, but there are times that he was used more on a rotational basis than on every down. With the way Davis played against Missouri in the Texas Bowl, there’s a chance he plays opposite of Kris Boyd for every down and every game. During the game, Davis was targeted six times and had two pass deflections and an interception. Meanwhile, he had six solo tackles and did a great job coming upfield and making stops.
To have the ability to do that, you have to be aggressive, take the proper angle to the ball carrier but also have to play wide receivers “outside-in”. For the most part, Davis did that against Missouri. That game is what really caught my eye, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him playing opposite Boyd. He has to become more consistent when flipping his hips, but he’s also got to do a better job of finding the ball when it’s in the air. If he does that more consistently, he should be the breakout player for this defense, despite his experience. Because of his length and aggressive style, the senior cornerback should be on your radar for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Kris Boyd, Cornerback
When talking about this secondary, P.J. Locke III will often be the first name discussed. After him, it’ll be cornerback Kris Boyd. Right away, Boyd stands out with his ability to come up and make tackles. He’s a great tackler in the confined areas of the field and in space.
Last season was the breakout year for Boyd, and right now, I think he’s the best cornerback in the Big 12. That might not be saying much for a conference that generally has bad defenses and high-powered offenses, but Boyd really stands out. He finished 2017 with 57 tackles, two interceptions, and 17 pass deflections.
Entering this year, Boyd has been named to the watch lists for the Jim Thorpe Award and Bronco Nagurski Trophy. That’s no surprise, but it would be surprising to see him take a step back his senior season. Hip fluidity isn’t a huge problem, but I think he could flip his hips faster when turning upfield. However, he keeps his eyes on the quarterback and does a great job clicking and closing to the football. No matter where the ball is, you’ll find Boyd with his nose towards the football. When establishing your list of top cornerbacks for the 2019 NFL Draft, Boyd should be on every one of them.
Led by OSU's Nick Bosa - 3 of the top 5 in terms of most QB pressures among true freshman edge defenders, hail from the state of Florida. pic.twitter.com/tOSGk3XMLz— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) August 16, 2017
Other Names To Consider:
Malcolm Roach, EDGE
Brandon Jones, Safety
Breckyn Hager, EDGE